Friday, 22 July 2011

MUSIC: God’s Mama, God’s Mama (SM Press), 2010

God’s Mama, God’s Mama (SM Press), 2010

It’s tempting to use anaemic Reviewer’s Algebra for this – “Lydia Lunch fronts The Birthday Party”, say – because, God’s Honest Truth, it’s the sound of the vagina dentata gnashing. Where so many female vocalists in Really Heavy Bands play on the contrast with whispers, drawls, or the deliberately thin voice of their inner child, Sibyl Madrigal, a Texan performance poet, growls and snarls to match the post-punk / slowcore grind. Poe’s ‘Black Cat’, as read by Diamanda Galas, springs to mind. As a poet, though, Madrigal never loses sight of the imperative to be intelligible, and you’d almost wish she didn’t because this is a mixture of Swampland and Spiderland, Revisited, after the first two tracks. No criticism of the opening salvo, but they’re more explosive; Alex Ward’s chorus guitars on ‘Death on the NHS’ shriek like an incoming missile, before the verse guitars scrape metal on metal, PiL- or GO4-style.

Taking a cue from Angela Carter, ‘Just Stephen’ puts the blood and guts back into fairy tales – then the lips and eyebrows for good measure. It’s Psycho merged with “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”, soundtracked by Slint. You might think you’ve heard this before – it’s second wave feminism, after all, and Mogwai nabbed the same riff – but small details like the mad matriarch’s injunction against “big naughty bad” and Stephen’s “wibbley-wobbley dance” are what make this. Next up, ‘Carpet Shark’ nails the sensation of a bad trip in two words. At the album’s centre, ‘Solid Shit’ could have been the band’s moment of indulgence at 2am in the studio – a catalogue of squelchy blues clichés – but the band have the technical ability to pull off a Zappa homage, and the lyric fits with the album’s confrontational mission. Similarly, ‘Goon Spy’ can nod to Shellac like they’re equals, rather than cribbing, because “This ain’t some kind of metaphor; this is real!” is an ideology, not a copyrighted catchphrase; plus, Albini hasn’t covered female voyeurism. Yet.

On the second side, Madrigal proves herself relentlessly inventive in her iconoclasm. ‘Mad MacB’s Love Lament’ drops the witchiness for a hideous falsetto (Crone turned Maiden). It’s the deformed inner child of X-Factor contestants squealing for attention; the way Wire-readers hear chart-music; the song Lynch thought too horrible to have the Lady in the Radiator sing. We’ve already had one take on Bad Motherhood (‘Just Stephen’) but ‘Sow Souwester’ doesn’t even humanize this particular Earth Mother; over a freeform backing, Madrigal oinks and grunts the apotheosis of the sow-goddess. The album’s closer ‘We Come from Fish’ brings everything together: it’s a refutation of Creationism, a shamanic dive into the pre-conscious, a reclamation of hatewords (used by men and self-hating women, alike). Plus, it rocks as hard as Slint, Shellac, Codeine, Come; whoever you care to name. 20 years ago, Kim Gordon deadpanned: “England didn’t invent punk-rock; girls did.” It’s a provocative stance, and the girls of this decade’s post-punk revival have certainly lasted longer. God’s Mama point to the flaw: where are all the Women still making punk?

[Not previously published]

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